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ISLAMABAD, Feb 20: The European Union has criticised the government for its failure to provide a level playing field in the electoral process. It has also pointed out ‘procedural irregularities and institutional inadequacies’.

“The elections were competitive,… but there were significant problems with the election framework and environment,” according to the preliminary assessment of the European Union Election Observation Mission released at a press conference here on Wednesday. The final report will be released in April.

The EU mission had the largest contingent of foreign poll observers who covered 65 per cent of the constituencies. It will also monitor post-election developments, including complaints and appeals.

“A level playing field was not provided to the competitors with the authorities favouring the Pakistan Muslim League (Q),” said chief observer Michael Gahler, adding that the ruling parties “profited from the support”.

Mr Gahler said the involvement of the authorities included a multi-fold clout of institutions, including the local government nazims.

He said the observation was independent of the results.

“Nazims were directly involved in campaigning activity and misuse of state resources in their areas, mostly on behalf of PML-Q candidates. There were credible reports of police harassment of opposition party workers and agents. Some candidates across the board placed undue pressure on public authorities within their constituency to make public resources available to them,” the report said.

“The public broadcasters, the main source of information for most of the population, failed to live up to their responsibility to maintain balance. They provided substantial coverage of the president, government and the PML-Q and limited coverage of other parties,” it said.

Private television channels provided candidates and parties with pluralistic coverage, it said.

The report said people did not have confidence in the independence of the Election Commission.

“Statements of the count were not always issued to agents and were generally not displayed. Observers and candidates’ agents were not granted sufficient access to results compilation at the constituency level. Very few returning officers displayed constituency results with a breakdown by polling station -- a basic transparency requirement.”

Nevertheless, it said, on the whole counting was well conducted in the stations observed.

Robert Evans, head of the EU Parliament delegation, said: “The election period has shown the strong desire of the Pakistani people for democracy and the rule of law.”

He said the holding of elections in a peaceful manner was the first sign of peaceful transition of power.